Thursday, 3 March 2011

Cross party working group comes up trumps with vision for libraries

I know that a lot of the posts I write here are negative and attack the decisions being made by the Conservative run administration at County Hall. Today's report from the Library Working Group is altogether different however.

This was a well thought through and well researched piece of work led by Indie Cllr John Pollard and which makes recommendations about how our library service should develop in the future. I don't agree with absolutely every conclusion, but the document does set out a vision for the service and shows how, with the right investment, we can build on a slimline but high achieving branch network in the future.

John and his team make the case for libraries becoming community hubs - still based around the core library service, but reflecting local needs and providing localised services. He calls for investment in training and equipment to ensure that libraries can expand their range of services and provide key facilities and training to people who, for instance, don't have their own computer. He also calls for less reliance on fines as a source of income but for branch managers to be encouraged to seek other revenue streams without the danger that this money will disappear into some Truro black hole.

There will be an increased involvement of volunteers in our libraries in future, but the working group made clear that this cannot be at the expense of trained staff. Volunteers can add to service, not replace it. A future library service can also expand to allow many more people - particularly in rural areas - to use it. That's great news, but residents in isolated communities will need to see how this will work before they lose current facilities such as mobile libraries.

The devil will not be in the detail but in the implementation and we will see in June how his plans can be turned into reality. The danger is that the the costly aspects will be ignored whilst the ways of saving money will be rammed through. We were assured that this won't be the case - the plan will only work if it is taken as a whole - but it will be a difficult task for officers to accomplish in the current financial times.

As for how the planned future savings will be made, we still don't know. But we have a commitment to involving councillors properly in the decision making for next year, something that was almost completely absent this.

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